The aim of the present study was to further understand how changes in membrane organization can lead to higher rates of lipid oxidation. We previously demonstrated that Al(3+), Sc(3+), Ga(3+), Be(2+), Y(3+), and La(3+) promote lipid packing and lateral phase separation. Using the probe Laurdan, we evaluated in liposomes if the higher rigidity of the membrane caused by Al(3+) can alter membrane phase state and/or hydration, and the relation of this effect to Al(3+)-stimulated lipid oxidation. In liposomes of dimyristoyl phosphatidylcholine and dimyristoyl phosphatidylserine, Al(3+) (10-100 microM) induced phase coexistence and displacement of T(m). In contrast, in liposomes of brain phosphatidylcholine and brain phosphatidylserine, Al(3+) (10-200 microM) did not affect membrane phase state but increased Laurdan generalized polarization (GP = -0. 04 and 0.09 in the absence and presence of 200 microM Al(3+), respectively). Sc(3+), Ga(3+), Be(2+), Y(3+), and La(3+) also increased GP values, with an effect equivalent to a decrease in membrane temperature between 10 and 20 degrees C. GP values in the presence of the cations were significantly correlated (r(2) = 0.98, P < 0.001) with their capacity to stimulate Fe(2+)-initiated lipid oxidation. Metal-promoted membrane dehydration did not correlate with ability to enhance lipid oxidation, indicating that dehydration of the phospholipid polar headgroup is not a mechanism involved in cation-mediated enhancement of Fe(2+)-initiated lipid oxidation. Results indicate that changes in membrane phospholipid phase state favoring the displacement to gel state can facilitate the propagation of lipid oxidation.